Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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Coleman unveils plan to make U.S. more competitive
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Sen. Norm Coleman is proposing a set of incentives he says would keep the U.S. competitive in the global marketplace. The package includes tax credits for graduate students in math and science programs, as well as research and development efforts. (MPR Photo/Bob Reha)
Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., flew around the state for summits in Moorhead, Hibbing and Rochester to announce legislation he says is aimed at keeping jobs in the United States.

Moorhead, Minn. — Sen. Coleman calls the legislation the COMPETE Act of 2005. COMPETE stands for Collaborative Opportunities to Mobilize and Promote Education, Technology, and Enterprise.

Coleman says the legislation would make the country more competitive in the global marketplace by expanding tax credits for research, development and education. The price tag is $40 billion spread over 10 years.

"I'm also looking for ways that we can cover that with offsets, and without adding to the bottom line of the deficit," Coleman said. "But we have to make the investment -- America cannot stand still."

The legislation includes tax credits for businesses to upgrade technology skills. The bill would make it easier for companies to get patents and trademarks on their products. Graduate students studying engineering, science and math would get tax credits.

Grants of $500,000 would be available to schools in each state, whose students make the most improvement in math and science test scores.

Coleman says a bipartisan group of 10 senators is working on the bill. They include Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. Coleman says he and Baucuse are working closely together.

"To put together a commission, to do an 18-month study on global competitiveness. What are the things we have to do in the United States to be competitive?" said Coleman. "That study will give us both a better read on cost, and the cost of inaction, which I think we have to document better."

If you're looking long-term, that is early childhood education. There is nothing in here on early childhood education.
- Art Rolnick, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

The proposal got a positive reaction in Moorhead. Bette Midgarden, vice president of academic affairs at Minnesota State University-Moorhead, likes the idea of giving $3,500 tax credits to graduate students who study engineering, science or math. Midgarden says the tax credits would help teachers who need to update their accrediation requirements under the No Child Left Behind law.

Midgarden hopes the tax credits would be an incentive to recruit people into the teaching profession -- especially math teachers.

"In the last four or five years, on average, we have graduated five students with mathematics majors and education preparation so they are certified. Five," said Midgarden.

Midgarden says developing workers with math and science skills is critical. She says the job market in future years will require those type of workers.

But some say the legislation is missing a critical link.

"If you're looking forward, if you're looking long-term, that is early childhood education. There is nothing in here on early childhood education," said Art Rolnick, director of research for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Rolnick says the money in the bill for tax credits and rewarding schools for improving math scores is a nice idea, but it isn't a long-term solution.

"The brain development research, the economic research we have seen, shows that investing in birth-to-5 has a very high public return," said Rolnick. "If you don't get the children at a very early age, many of them aren't prepared for K through 12."

Rolnick says investing money in early childhood education is the key to developing a more competitive workforce in the future.

Sen. Coleman says he's willing to listen to new ideas to incorporate into the bill. Coleman says in times of tight budgets, his colleagues might be spooked by the bill's $40 billion price tag. He says the trick will be to convince lawmakers that the money is a needed investment in the future.

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